GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Vikings had played 43 games at Lambeau Field before Saturday night, winning 18, losing 23 and tying twice.
In all their trips to the venerable stadium before Saturday, the Vikings had held the Packers under 10 points only six times. They had kept them out of the end zone for an entire night only twice.
What they did Saturday night, even if it was against a Packers team missing Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams at the beginning of the game and Jordy Nelson by the end of it, will rank as one of the great moments at Lambeau Field for the Vikings and one of the most delicious triumphs for their fans.
The Vikings dispatched the Packers 16-0, exerting their defensive will in single-digit temperatures and ushering Packers fans out of Lambeau Field early in the team’s final home game of the season. By the final three minutes of the game, the Vikings’ “Skol” chant could be heard clearly from Minnesota fans dotted across the stadium.
“That’s what we want to be able to do for our fans,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “Now it gives our fans bragging rights. And for us, it gives us great momentum going into the next game.”
A week after allowing seven points to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Vikings recorded their first shutout since Dec. 5, 1993, securing their first season sweep over the Packers since Brett Favre led the Vikings to two victories over his former team in 2009. They have won four of their past five games against the Packers, moving coach Mike Zimmer’s career record against Green Bay to 4-4 after Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier went 4-12-1 against them.
The Vikings shut out the Packers for just the second time in franchise history, and the first since a 3-0 victory on Nov. 14, 1971. They let the Packers convert just one of their first six third-down attempts, a week after giving up one conversion to the Bengals in 13 attempts, and stifled the Packers’ passing game to the point where Brett Hundley’s two scrambles of 24 yards apiece were Green Bay’s longest plays of the night.
Saturday’s win moved the Vikings to 12-3, marking the seventh time in franchise history and first since 2009 they’ve won at least 12 games. They can clinch a first-round bye with a Carolina Panthers loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, or with a win next Sunday over the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings’ win also kept them in the running for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, though they’d need another win and two Philadelphia Eagles losses to claim the top seed in the conference.
“We need to win the next game and then we get the chance to sit at home for a week and kind of get refocused and regrouped,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “And after the last bye we had [in November], we had quite a bit of success. So I’m hoping we can get one more win and work on some things we need to work on.”
On a frigid night where players frequently slipped on Lambeau Field’s soon-to-be-replaced grass surface, the Vikings were able to string together two early drives when big plays were at a premium.
Their longest play came on a 39-yard pass interference penalty called on Josh Hawkins after Case Keenum underthrew a deep ball for Stefon Diggs, forcing the receiver to come back for the ball. Keenum finished the first half 9-for-14 for 75 yards, throwing a touchdown to Diggs.
He had several passes that could have been intercepted by a secondary with more wherewithal than the Packers’ injury-depleted group, but as the Vikings built a 10-0 halftime lead, Keenum avoided a big mistake. Hundley, however, did not.
On the eighth play of a 62-yard drive that took the Packers down to the Vikings 15, Hundley threw over the middle on third down for Lance Kendricks after staring at the tight end. Harrison Smith stepped in front of the pass and returned the interception 17 yards, snuffing out the Packers’ best chance to score of the first half.
Smith, who was not named to his third Pro Bowl this week despite putting together one of his finest seasons, posted eight tackles (including two for loss) and sealed the game with his second interception of the night. It was the first two-interception game of Smith’s career.
“He’s the heart of the defense,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “He’s the heart of the team. He’s a leader. We definitely need that guy.”
The biggest concerns of the night for the Vikings came on the injury front. Left guard Nick Easton will have surgery after fracturing his right ankle, and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen was ruled out with a shoulder injury.
Long snapper Kevin McDermott also left for the night after injuring his shoulder at the end of the first half, and will have an MRI on Sunday. Left tackle Riley Reiff limped off the field in the second half, though Reiff returned to the game in the fourth quarter.
But while the injury questions will have to be answered in time, little could sour the night for the Vikings at Lambeau Field.
“It feels pretty good; I’m not going to lie,” defensive tackle Linval Joseph said. “It really does feel good to beat Green Bay. It was a well-fought game, they gave their all, and we came out on top. It was a good game.”
Ben Goessling covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @GoesslingStrib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org